Microsoft's OEMs could strip out IE shell, says MS exec

But only after they've strictly adhered to the MS boot sequence.

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MS on Trial The man who pays the rent at Microsoft spoke today -- and curiously, one of his suggestions was that Microsoft's OEM customers might care to install Caldera's DR-DOS on their machines. It's an interesting notion that may come back to haunt veteran Microsoft OEM boss Joachim Kempin, but we'll get back to it later. He also suggests a way OEMs could use their own shell rather than IE, and actually, this looks to us like a procedure some of them might care to investigate. Kempin has been running Microsoft's OEM sales operation, the one that secures something in the region of $50 for the OS licence for each and every PC that goes out of the door, for 11 years, and with the possible exception of the slightly bizarre DR-DOS excursion, his testimony, which was released today, is about as coherent and solid an argument of Microsoft's case as you're likely to get. It's also readable, and fairly concise -- regrettably, this is a dramatic departure by the standards of Microsoft written testimony. Kempin argues with impeccable logic that Microsoft has a right to defend the integrity of its products, and somewhat more worryingly, he points out that any changes in Windows configuration an OEM may make must be expressly permitted, otherwise it's forbidden. Prior to today we'd no idea that Microsoft OEM contracts drew heavily on the Wizard of Id. This means that OEMs can't change the initial boot sequence of the PCs they sell, and can't remove icons and features that Microsoft deems to be part of Windows. You'll note -- Kempin's testimony fails to do this directly -- that the boundaries of what Microsoft has defined as the integrity of its product has widened somewhat over the years, and that Kempin (trial stories passim) has played a key role in widening them in the teeth of OEM opposition. But Kempin makes two basic points that aren't quite as contradictory as they might appear, and that are worth examining in detail. First, he is insistent on the integrity of the initial boot sequence, what plays as the OS installs for the first time and what the customer sees on the first boot after the installation is complete. So after this first boot the customer should get the IE icon on the desktop, and IE as the shell. Other standard icons that Microsoft wishes to appear also have to appear. But in addition, Kempin points out that OEMs can install any software they like on the machine, including, if they wish, some kind of magic button which could be pressed after that first boot, and which gave the customer the option to go the whole Netscape hog, and to use an entirely different shell. Kempin argues that OEMs shouldn't be allowed to alter the initial sequence because the various items which appear are part of Windows, marketed by Microsoft as part of Windows, and hence expected by the customer to be there. If OEMs changed Windows willy-nilly for their own ends, it mightn't work properly, but would still be perceived by customers as being Windows, and so Microsoft would catch the flak. He also suggests that Unix-like splits and incompatibilities would ensue. Still, we'd just love to hear from an OEM prepared to include a 'Nuke Windows' button on the desktop, for use post initial boot. One of the trickier things Kempin has to deal with in his testimony relates to the introduction of this initial boot restriction, particularly as he was the man who had to execute it. OEMs had been attempting to differentiate their products by introducing their own initial sequences and even their own shells, but the changes made by Microsoft forbade this. Kempin cites a Packard-Bell innovation which "hid the Windows Start button-the most basic way of invoking the functionality of Windows-and disabled the many useful functions performed by right mouse clicking... Because the Packard Bell shell-and others from Compaq and Hewlett Packard-launched automatically by default during the Windows startup sequence, customers who thought they were buying a personal computer running Windows would not in the first instance even see Windows as the operating system was intended by its creator". Tricky one that, isn't it? The crux of the matter is whether the customer thinks they're buying a Microsoft product or, say, a Compaq one running Microsoft software. Kempin obviously reckons they're buying a Microsoft one, but that's what he's paid to think. He brings up DR-DOS in this context. He assumes that OEMs want to brand their products differently, so points out that, as they're allowed to do anything they like before the Windows boot process is initiated, they could put their logo into the BIOS so it flashed onto the screen. "In fact, it would be open to the OEM to run a small operating system such as Caldera's DR-DOS from the BIOS before Windows starts, and launch all sorts of programs from that supplemental operating system, including advertisements promoting Netscape's web browsing software or America Online's online service." This doesn't address the concerns of some OEMs, however. Hewlett-Packard, for example, regarded its outlawed boot sequence as making its PCs easier to operate, and claimed support calls climbed once it was forced to remove it. Kempin is essentially saying that OEMs can use the edging of the Windows Experience to market themselves and their partners, but that Microsoft defines what is going to make the computer easier to use. But he's not bad, all the same -- he's actually nearly convincing, and the weak points in his case are harder to find than in the testimony of his fellow MS execs (not that this is saying much). But here's one worth thinking about. Says Kempin: "The technologies in Windows 95 and Windows 98 referred to by the name Internet Explorer were included in the very first version of Windows 95 made available to OEMs in July 1995. There has never been a version of Windows 95 or Windows 98 supplied to OEMs that did not include Internet Explorer." This is sort of true, although what you might term the first real Internet Explorer, version 2.0, wasn't available for download until November 1995. Nor did these technologies ship with the retail Windows 95 upgrade pack. The technologies Kempin is talking about were those in the Plus! pack, which was sold at retail, so Microsoft did once charge for "the technologies... referred to by the name Internet Explorer". The Plus! pack, announced in April 95 and intended to ship at the same time as Windows 95, was then described by Microsoft as including desktop themes, sounds, fonts, colour schemes, wallpapers, screen savers, icons and animated cursors. And Explorer technologies? We quote a Reuters report of the time: "As a bonus, Microsoft is also throwing in an Internet Jumpstart Kit that provides easy sign-up and one-button access to the Internet." From such humble afterthoughts great integrationist empires grow, apparently... ® Complete Register trial coverage

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